Editor’s note: The following benchmarks have been compiled using data reported by dairies enrolled in Alta Genetic’s AltaAdvantage program, a progeny testing program. More than 182,500 cows in 175 herds participate in the program nationwide.

Udder health, and the milk quality impact that can result from poor health, is a major management area for the progressive dairy. You can use somatic cell count (SCC) or somatic cell score (SCS) to manage and evaluate how well your herd is doing at managing mastitis. There is also the possibility to track the number of clinical mastitis cases per month or the number of fresh cows with clinical mastitis on your dairy, but these measures are difficult to use when benchmarking against peers. This is because of variability in what is ‘diagnosed’ as a clinical case, which can decrease reliability of the benchmark. Therefore, we will use SCC to benchmark udder health in this article.

Show me the money!
There are two points to consider in monitoring udder health on your dairy, and they both add up to one thing – money! Udder infections and mastitis are correlated to reduced productive life in your cows, which can raise the cash requirement to purchase replacements. Also, processors typically pay premiums for higher quality milk which is measured in terms of somatic cell count. Lower counts mean more money. So monitoring is worth the effort, financially.

A good benchmark
A number of different dimensions can be analyzed when monitoring cell counts in your herds. Good measures not only report cell counts, but they also help identify “where” the problem exists. Some good examples are:

• Monitoring the average SCC by lactation group


• Percentage of animals over a given level of SCC (200,000) by lactation group

•SCC for cows at each stage in their lactation (less than 40 days in milk [DIM], 41-100 DIM, 101-200 DIM, 201 to 300 DIM, greater than 300 DIM)

Equally important to the decision on what measure is correct for your dairy is making the commitment to consistently monitor them. In our progeny testing program herds, we have chosen to monitor four variables. We look at SCC for the overall dairy, by lactation group and early in the lactation. The average for the top 25 percent of dairies in our program as well as the average for the overall group is reported in Tables 1 through 4 (page 23). Together these variables offer an accurate and clear picture of overall mastitis management on any given farm. The data offers a point of comparison with your own dairy.

Tips to manage mastitis
There are a number of practices a dairy can implement to help manage the factors that contribute to low SCC and effective mastitis management. We’ve identified five things the top herd managers are doing on their dairy.

1) A consistent, proper milking routine

• All shifts utilize the same prep procedure

• Consistent lag time between prep and attachment

• Utilization of milking gloves

• Completely dry teats thoroughly before attaching machine

2) Clean, dry beds and alleys

• Beds scraped out and leveled at each milking

• Alleys kept as clean and/or dry as possible to reduce manure splashed onto udder

• Utilizing inorganic material (sand) as bedding 3) Fresh cow care and cleanliness

• No grouping of clinical mastitis cows with post fresh cows

• Sanitary calving area that is cleaned regularly

4) Sanitary dry cow treatment process, with a clean, maintained area for dry cows

• Dry cows cannot be treated as an afterthought

• The dry cow treatment process cannot introduce new bacteria into the udder.

5) Consistent labor force with little employee turnover

• Helps ensure compliance with protocols and overall consistency

The reasons to control mastitis and reduce SCC are clear: higher milk premiums, healthier cows, increased reproductive success, ultimately more milk per cow and profit. Investing some time, thought and resources into reducing your SCC is an easy investment to make. Better yet, the benefits are realized almost immediately. PD